Meet Pogo the Clown, aka your worst nightmare.

The story of the babysitter and the clown statue is one of the most popular urban legends of all time. But what’s even more terrifying is the person behind the clown makeup.

Did one of the most prolific serial killers of all time give us a reason to forever fear clowns?

Let’s begin with a quick retelling of the urban myth about the babysitter and the clown statue. This story is best told by your cool big sister — but let us give it a shot.

The legend goes like this:

A married couple asks a babysitter to look after their kids so they can go out to dinner. They ask the babysitter to stay in the guest room upstairs while they’re gone, just in case one of the kids wakes up.

Halfway through dinner, the couple calls the babysitter to check in. The sitter says everything is fine, but is it okay if she covers up the clown statue in the guest room with a sheet or a blanket? She’s always been a little afraid of clowns, and the statue is creeping her out.

The couple pauses, then tells her to grab the kids and leave the house immediately. The sitter does as she’s told. She brings the kids to a neighbor’s house; the kids’ parents meet them there. They look terrified. They apologize to their children for not believing their stories about the clown under their bed, then turn to the babysitter.

“We don’t have a clown statue,” they say.

Shortly afterwards, the legend goes, the police arrest a man in a clown costume creeping around the neighborhood with a butcher knife. In the legend, the clown usually turns out to be an escapee from a nearby prison or mental asylum.

The Origins Of The Legend

The clown statue urban legend is relatively new — it was first seen in print in the early 2000s. It appears to have started as a chain email instructing people to forward to 10 friends or else they’d find a clown “statue” in their own bedroom.

The legend has also been told over and over again in the online horror community known as “creepypasta.”

In real life, clowns almost never commit murder. But fear of clowns — coulrophobia — is rampant in American culture. A poll conducted last year by the news site Vox found that Americans fear clowns more than climate change or even death.

The Truth Behind The Clown Face

Our fear of clowns certainly isn’t helped by John Wayne Gacy — one of the most prolific serial killers in U.S. history.

Gacy was a small business owner who ran a construction company in the suburbs of Chicago in the 1960s and 70s. The man had a passion for clowns. People in his community apparently liked him a lot; he was known to dress as a character called “Pogo The Clown,” which he used to entertain children at local events. Gacy even had kids of his own.

The graves of bodies found in the crawlspace of Gacy’s house. | Chicago Tribune

But he had problems, too. He grew up with an alcoholic father who beat him. He started getting in trouble with the law in the 60s, when he was accused of sexually assaulting several teenage boys. He was acquitted of some charges but convicted of others, and ended up serving time in prison in Illinois.

Gacy’s 28th victim is discovered and transferred to a police van, 1979. | Sally Good / Chicago Tribune

Prison didn’t reform Gacy, though. After he was released in 1970, he started a construction company and used it to lure teenage boys and young men to his house. His first murder, 15 year old Timothy Jack McCoy, involved a knife in what Gacy refers to as an “accident.” The murder ended in an orgasm for Gacy and he discovered his link with murder and sexual pleasure, calling it “the ultimate thrill.”

Most of his murders included rape and torture that ended with strangulation or asphyxiation. He would then put the dead body under his bed and sleep that way for one night. All in all, Gacy was determined to have killed 33 boys and men between the years 1972–78.

Some of Gacy’s victims. | Chicago Tribune

Only ten days after his final murder, Gacy was caught. Police found the bodies of Gacy’s victims in the crawlspace of his house, buried around his property and even submerged in the nearby Des Plaines River.

A John Wayne Gacy self portrait.

While there are no reports of Gacy dressing as Pogo the Clown during his killings, we can’t be certain that he never put on his clown costume during his brutal attacks, making Pogo the last thing his victims would ever see. We do know that Gacy used a “magic trick” he learned as Pogo to trick young men into handcuffs.

After being imprisoned and sentenced to death, Gacy used his remaining time on Earth to paint extremely haunting clown pictures:

A self-portrait by serial killer John Wayne Gacy, titled ‘Pogo the Clown’. | Miami New Times

Many of the paintings were exhibited in 1994 — some with price tags of over $4,000 — and even auctioned off, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Gacy’s murders. A large amount, 25–30 paintings, were bought and burned in a bonfire attended by victims’ family members.

A Gacy painting titled “Pogo in the Making.” | Miami New Times

As for Gacy’s victims, to this day some of them are still being identified through DNA. One — a 16-year-old named James Byron Haakenson who ran away from home in 1976 and was murdered by Gacy shortly thereafter — was just identified a few months ago.

Gacy’s house was later demolished. | Chicago Tribune

We Don’t Have A Clown Statue & Neither Should You

While it’s still considered a newer urban legend, we can’t imagine it will be leaving any time soon. It’s a classic babysitting horror story with a creepy clown woven in. The clown in our urban legend never hurt anyone — just watched them sleep every single night.

Sweet dreams.